Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Doll

This spookily realistic Kurt Vonnegut Jr. doll comes with a reproduction of one of his books. From Etsy's UneekDollDesigns, which also offers dolls based on the likenesses of such literary notables as Emily Dickenson, Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas, John Steinbeck, and Ray Bradbury.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Death Of Clerks (And Civilization As We Know It)

How does the demise of the clerk (video store, bookstore, record store, etc.) lead to the end of civilization? Salon has a really interesting article on the subject, casting the clerk as a vital mediator and disseminator of culture currently endangered by automated systems and the Internet:

"The years following the 2008 market crash have been hard on many people. But due to other transitions in the economy and culture – the continued trickling-up of wealth to the very top, the “storm of innovation” unleashed by the Internet, a growing faux-populist disregard for expertise — certain sectors have been hit harder than others. Shop clerks, however erudite, don’t fit into the most influential definition of “the creative class” – urban scholar Richard Florida considers these folks members of the service class, about which he is not optimistic. But they’ve been, over the decades, important conduits between consumers and culture — and a training ground and meeting spot for some of our best writers, filmmakers and bands."
Bookstores and video rental shops were also places that creative people, in-between jobs and/or trying to find themselves, would flock to. Yeah, it was sort of like a service-job...in an awesome place filled with culture! I worked at a video store my first years in college, and the constant flow of movies -- many of them indie/experimental/foreign -- provided a sort of inspiration/distraction from my more mundane duties. Best of all were the lively discussions me and my co-workers would have with the regular customers, recommending our favorite films and learning about new ones.

Now that many of these types of stores are just about history or struggling to survive, the people who thrived in these jobs turn to the very avenue that has made their occupations irrelevant -- the Internet. The unpaid blogger replaces the culture-savvy clerk, once again becoming Culture Nexus. Only this time, unless they monetize their site in a significant way or a paid gig -- they aren't making their income doing so. Big difference:

"In a world of rapid technological advance, where even some highly trained lawyers and medical pathologists are in trouble, the humble clerk doesn’t stand a chance. The out-of-work video store clerk, blogging in his bedroom for free, may be a kind of canary in the cultural coal mine. We don’t always get warnings before our livelihood – or our lives – suddenly change. But the signs today, of a new kind of creative destruction, are getting harder and harder to ignore."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Time Richard Pryor Was Erased From The Superman III Magazine

I'm a big fan of Superman III --me and Michel Gondry might be the only ones who are. So at a comic book convention several months ago, I was quite stoked to purchase the Superman III Poster Magazine, circa 1983, for around $3 (cover price!).

Interesting thing about this magazine -- produced by the go-to publisher for such things at the time, Starlog -- almost every trace of Richard Pryor being in the movie was omitted.

Pryor was a top-billed actor in the movie (second only to Christopher Reeve), playing computer genius Gus Gorman. This was at the height of Pryor's career, and as a result of Superman III the actor/comedian signed a 5-picture deal with Columbia. (It is said that Pryor got the Superman gig when producer Ilya Salkind saw him on The Tonight Show praising Superman II).

So why "scrub" Pryor from the Superman III magazine? I mean, there is hardly any trace of his character or his name anywhere in this publication, and no picture of the standard movie poster with Reeve carrying Pryor. No images of him in the posters, and, strangest of all, he's simply skipped over in the character profile section.

To give you some perspective on this, imagine if the high-paid "guest star" of a current blockbuster film -- his or her character integral to the plot -- was nowhere to be found in the official movie magazine. It would seem odd, no?

After reading over the magazine several times, I've found three mentions of Pryor/Gorman. The first is this sentence from the "Making Of Superman III" article, referring to the part of Gorman: "The role fell to comedian Richard Pryor, a confessed Superman fan." That's the only mention of Pryor. Then two mentions of Gus Gorman when explaining the poster images, though he is never depicted.

Concept poster art from the Superman III fan site

There can be several reasons for this. First, perhaps Pryor's handlers didn't give permission to use his image, or asked for too much money to use it. That's entirely possible, and similar things have happened in magazines and other licensed product containing the likenesses of actors. But then what was the point of spending so much money on Pryor to co-star in Superman III if he wouldn't approve likenesses for publicity reasons? It seems counter-productive. I mean, he was in the trading cards, on the cover of the novelisation, and in the UK poster magazine.

The infamous giant foam cowboy hat
Another possible reason: backlash against the character himself. Certainly, this role was not the best use of Pryor's considerable talents. In a nutshell: this was a smart, often acerbic and aggressive comedian playing a buffoonish, clown-like character, wearing different funny hats and doing wide-eyed doubletakes at everything. As a Superman fan, Pryor deserved better. And though he did have that 5-picture deal after Superman, most of Pryor's further movie roles only replicated this cartoonish, slapstick template. I guess this whole issue of him and Superman III haunts me to this day for the incredible lack of respect he got through the entire process.

And it almost looks like Gus Gorman was "grafted" onto this plot rather than being an organic part of it (supposedly Gus was was originally going to be Brainiac, and the victim of the infamous robot-transformation scene at the end). Was this done simply to make a buck off of Pryor's fame? Critics and fans alike blamed Pryor's inclusion in the picture for making it overly-campy. To this day, nobody (except maybe Michel Gondry, though I have not asked him) seems to be happy with Gorman (or, let's face it, Superman III).

So did the magazine just minimize his role in the film because he was unpopular?

Perhaps we will never know. It's a pretty small, nitpicky thing, anyway -- though the issue seems to have continued to the present day. Here is the DVD case for the latest edition of Superman III:

Again -- Pryor is gone. Though at this late date, we could simply point at the unpopularity of the Gorman character as being the culprit (Robert Vaughn seems to be the big winner in all this). I mean, almost every aspect of the Superman movies have been reflected on/winked at in the subsequent TV series, movies, and comics such as Smallville. But what about Superman III? It is almost as if, like Pryor's partcipation in the movie, everybody (except that rogue Gondry) just wishes it had never existed at all.

Oh, and in case you are wondering: there are two images of the scary robot-lady in the magazine, though, unfortunately (or fortunately), no posters.

Cool Holiday Gift Ideas I Found Browsing The NBC Store

We are still in the midst of last minute holiday shopping, and one of the places we checked out was the NBC store. They do a really great job merchandising series like Community and Parks and Rec, creating cool swag that organically relates to the shows and their characters:

Troy and Abed in the Morning Mug
This is the gold standard in Community collectables as far as I'm concerned, a must-have for fans of the show:

Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness Poster
Should be required for any office cubicle, fitness room, or food preparation space:

Dundler Mifflin Paper Ream
I'd buy this not to actually use, but to show how ironically hip I am. Though at $9.98 price-point per 500 sheets, it's not terrible if you just want the paper:

Teddy Pierce Holiday Figurine
This just because I'm a fan of Chevy Chase and this is going to be the closest I'm going to get to having an action figure of him. Though it looks like more of one of those "evil teddy bear" collectable figurines:

Kelly Kapoor Bobblehead
...and this is the closest I'm going to get to having a Mindy Kaling action figure:

Greendale Community College "Go Human Beings!" T-Shirt
It's always fun to wear tees of learning institutions that don't exist in real life:

The Many Faces Of Ron Swanson Poster
Swanson-humor never gets old, never gets played-out:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Requiem For "Batman: The Brave And The Bold"

So the last episode of Batman: The Brave And The Bold has just aired -- and, as I've watched it right after viewing the first episode of the new Green Lantern animated series, I have a bit to say (spoilers ahead).

First of all, there were parts of the one-hour Green Lantern season premiere that I really enjoyed; but I am not enthusiastic regarding a possible future of animated TV series where everything is done in a standard CGI format. The CGI in Green Lantern was certainly better than some of the utter atrocities (or is that Atrocituses) I have seen elsewhere, but compare it to the epic world-building and design of the new ThunderCats, or the relatively limited but visually striking and effective animation on a show like B:TBATB.

That being said, it is obvious to me that a lot of the future of animated television lies in the Green Lantern approach. It must be far more cost-effective, and to a generation of children literally raised on video games, this 3-D look fits right in. This is not a judgement on Green Lantern The Animated Series, the same way the last episode of B: TBATB, "Mitefall!," was totally not a judgement on the future of animation at all (oh no not at all).

In "Mitefall!" 5th-Dimensional imp Bat-Mite thoroughly knocks down the 4th wall and tries to get B:TBATB taken off the air so it can be replaced by a grittier Batman series. Bat-Mite feels that the series has thoroughly "jumped the shark" and thus needs to be put to a dirt nap -- and who more appropriate than the man who "originated" JTS, The Fonz himself (Henry Winkler), to challenge Bat-Mite's plans in the form of Ambush Bug (no stranger to breaking the 4th wall himself)?

Along with Ted McGinley (who of course makes an appearance in the episode) and cute and pointless new kiddie castmembers, one of the most telling signs of a series that has jumped the shark is hopelessly self-referential storylines -- and "Mitefall!" gleefully wallows in that last category. In fact, the episode literally runs through all the possible flaws of B:TBATB that has led to its own cancellation, #1 being it was essentially one of the biggest "fan-service" in-jokey TV series (outside of Smallville) of all time. (But-but-but that's why I liked it!)

However, I realize that a show like that just isn't going to retain the attention span of the kiddies, who apparently want to see more of the heroes and villains punching each other and less references to a kinder, gentler, older period in comic (and pop-culture) history. And "Mitefall" realizes this too. Sort of. Actually, it was really hard to figure out how this episode (or its writer Paul Dini) really felt about the future of animation, or its recently-announced replacement series Beware the Batman -- it sort of bounced around between agreeing it's time for a change -- accepting that we need a darker gritter Batman, like the one from the episode "Chill Of The Night!" -- and worrying that it might actually be too dark.

The breaking-point for Ambush Bug in this story is when Bat Mite gives Batman guns to use. A Batman who uses guns is not Batman -- these are the weapons that killed his parents and no way is he OKing their usage. Does this reference the controversial promotional image from Beware The Batman of Alfred holding (and firing) guns?

A key character in "Mitefall!" is of course Bat-Mite. Having also re-watched the B:TBATB episode "Legends Of The Dark Mite" (which includes a scene in a comic book convention), it is clear that the character is the stand-in for the Fickle Fanboy ("Batman's Greatest Fan") -- the one that spearheads the criticism of B:TBATB and pushes for the gritter Batman. When the show is finally cancelled by the network (in the episode itself), Bat-Mite is overjoyed to have a whole new collection of swag to buy, and unsentimentally throws out all his B:TBATB merchandise. Then he gets his preview of the NEW Batshow, which is CGI (natch) and stars -- Batgirl?! Bat-Mite is, predictably, unhappy with this particular arrangement. Yes, the gritty realism is there -- but she's the wrong gender.

"Mitefall!" ends with Bat-Mite disappearing from existence (ironically, geeky characters like him can't exist in a gritty Batman universe), and Ambush Bug arranging one last party in the Batcave for everybody who appeared in B:TBATB. In the last shot, Batman looks directly at the camera and promises the audience he will always fight for justice and defend the innocent. And thus an amazing and amazingly self-referential final episode comes to a close. I'm expecting similar types of stories on Community as the clock ticks down for that show as well -- though it could be argued that references to Dan Harmon's conflict with the network and critics/fans over Community's fate have been there since the first episode of the 3rd season (a post for another day).

I love the freedom these shows have to comment on their own situations, to acknowledge the bigger forces at work that impact their content and longevity. That said, taking into account the bored TV viewers in "Mitefall!" who want to see more punching and less talking, I acknowledge where the real priorities in any form of entertainment should be. And, having done my obligatory bit of pragmatic and realistic acknowledgement, may I just say how fantastically wonderful this episode was, and how grateful I was to see it.

Remember, kids:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Muppet Magazine" Memories

In my earlier post about Dynamite and other magazines of my youth, I forget to mention Muppet Magazine. In general, I've found magazines spun off from characters or movies/TV shows to be all over the place in terms of quality -- but Muppet Magazine, which ran from 1983 to 1989, was always top-notch. Like the earlier television show that inspired it, the publication integrated the top pop-culture stars of the day, creating (along with Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live), a sort of happy and safe environment where all celebrities human and muppet knew each other and could have fun.

Most of all, this was an environment that was kid-accessible, with neither the Muppet Show or Muppet Magazine talking down to children. Certainly, this is something that kid properties from Spongebob Squarepants to many of the recent Disney/Pixar movies have attempted to do. But maybe the Muppets were particularly successful because of the liminal state of reality they inhabited -- not quite real, but three dimensional and able to concretely interact with our world in a way that cartoons could not.

That said, though I watched the original Muppet Movie when it first premiered in New York City, I didn't really get into the Muppets as a child until the Muppet Babies were introduced in 1984's The Muppets Take Manhattan. From there the era of Kermit and the crew as actual puppets waned, to be replaced by the Muppet Babies animated TV show and a whole bunch of other Jim Henson projects that were really cool but were not the Muppets. And while the Muppet Babies cartoon was very intelligent for its time, it unfortunately spawned a whole genre of infantalized versions of established characters of varying degrees of quality.

So I look upon this current Muppet revival with great anticipation -- I think it has the right mix of what made the original Muppets great, with a contemporary aspect that should appeal to both hard-core fans and new viewers. And who knows -- with Jim Henson's creations now solidly in Disney/Marvel's wheelhouse, maybe we'll see a new version of Muppet Magazine as well. Certainly Jason Segel should be on the cover of the first issue!

Find more info on Muppets Magazine at the Muppets Wiki

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rejected "Supergirl The Movie" Posters

Here's an interesting collection of rejected posters for the 1984 movie Supergirl, courtesy of Jay Allen Sanford for the San Diego Reader. Sanford scanned and archived these and many other rejected posters for a client, and it's fascinating not just because of "what might have been," but to see how films like Supergirl could have been marketed.

For example, here at the right we have a decidedly non-superhero, somewhat Victorian-romance version of the poster, complete with a flower and sappy tagline (the one on the left was kinda cool though):

Here's some more "non-super" designs, playing up the romance angle. Even the one on the left makes Supergirl look like she is seductively stripping rather than revealing her secret identity:

What I find interesting is how in some of these designs the iconic Supergirl/Superman comic book elements are played down in favor for more of a romance vibe. You'd think that the public would be familiar enough with the Superman mythos through the success of the previous films that this would not be necessary -- you'd think the concept would essentially "sell itself" due to it being branded as part of the Superman movie franchise. And yet, considering the disappointing box office of Supergirl, maybe it wasn't enough.

Lots more Supergirl posters at the link, plus rejected designs for other movies including Batman. And here's part 2 of the San Diego Reader feature, with posters for Howard the Duck and The Fly.